Instagram Is by Far the Best Social Network to Be Terrible At

Instagram Is by Far the Best Social Network to Be Terrible At

Well, it has been about a year since I published one of my first popular articles titled "Why Us Average Joe Photographers Suck at Instagram" and I think it's time to update some things. If you think I'm better off now with thousands of new followers and busy influencing left and right, you'll be disappointed.

Instagram is about the only social network I would even consider posting to daily these days. I have been hovering right under 1800 followers for what seems like forever, and my good posts get around one hundred or so likes. Some of you might think that is impressive, just like I am impressed by people with numbers well beyond me. It is all relative and more importantly, really meaningless.

There are a number of reasons some people have tons of followers without even trying.

  • Celebrities
  • Teams, and popular sports figures
  • Recognizable brands
  • Music accounts
  • Instagram friendly niches like foodies, modeling, fitness, or automotive
  • Viral sensations
  • Photographers with work that looks like National Geographic or Vogue material

Do you notice we are the last one on that list? And by we, I mean the "photographers" part, not the part about the quality of the work. Photographers rank just above people using Instagram to just share their daily snapshots of everyday life. To be different you still need a strategy and the time and discipline to see it through.

Luckily, your followers do not make you a photographer. Taking photos and perfecting the craft in your own way does.

If you take the focus completely off of followers and likes and attend to growing your own skills and taking better photos, you will find more fulfillment regardless of the results. I joke that people can make their smartphones run better and faster by simply going to settings and turning expectation level down. We are always in full control over how we react and our actions. If you log into Instagram every day only to check out who has liked your photo of if you have new followers, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.

I would recommend starting your visit to the app by browsing some photos from people who you follow or maybe a hashtag you enjoy. If you really like a photo tell the photographer and explain why. If you get yourself doing this more and becoming an active member of the community, your experience will be better and the narrative will be back in your control.

So You Still Want Followers?

People everywhere have been looking for answers to on how to get more followers on Instagram. The thing is, users getting more followers didn't get there by looking up how to get them. They got followers by crushing it. Crushing it to me involves putting your head down and making some view worthy art. This involves your full attention absent of a motive to get more followers.

Curate your feed. When you check out someone's profile you can generally tell right away whether you want to follow them or not. Try looking at your own profile with the same critical eye.

Do you have a posting pattern or cadence? I have adopted a color, color, black and white pattern after I was turned onto the possibilities of a shifting column when I wrote: "First Impressions Are Everything On Your Instagram Profile." Since the grid is three by three my black and white photos always stay in a column. The plan was almost foiled when a four by four grid rumor spread around, but luckily it never came to be.

Pay attention to your color scheme. I like to take a look at my last six or nine posts and see what colors I'm missing. If there is no red, I post red. You may want to do the opposite and stick with specific pallettes. A lot of popular accounts have done well with a single pastel color throughout. It is a cool look although one I could never pull off.

If you post random stuff like snapshots or memes intermingled with your good photography you might want to split the account in two. Instagram makes this very easy, and if you're a Gmail user you can use the period trick to create an alternate account with your same email. It works like this:

  1. Open the app (you cannot register a new account in a browser)
  2. Logout or choose add account
  3. Register by email
  4. If your email is "FstoppersReader@gmail.com" the enter "Fstoppers.Reader@gmail.com"

You can use a period in the email anywhere and Gmail will ignore it but Instagram will treat it as different. Once you're signed up, Instagram makes it very easy to switch between your accounts on the fly.

Why Do I Love It

So why is Instagram the best social network to be terrible at? Because it is by far the easiest to approach and the least likely to give you little to no interaction. I have posted to a number of photo-friendly networks over the past five years. Facebook is terrible for me these days. Most of my posts have less visibility potential than Sasquatch. This seems to be fair game whether I'm using a business page or my personal account. While I enjoy Twitter, a good tweet only gets maybe ten favorites and a couple retweets. Google+ no longer has its once thriving photography community and unfortunately often ends up only catching spam. Flickr and 500px are more like a gallery or portfolio site to me so unless I'm publishing new work they aren't an option I use regularly. I tried and have since stopped using Vero. I really do like Ello but my account seems to have hit a peak. It always gets hard to continue posting to a site when you've hit diminishing returns and you only get an expected minimal result.

But there is one that stands tall above the rest. The simple app that is Instagram. The stories feature is one I enjoy from the viewer point of view. People that use it well are really able to offer a feeling of special access and cool behind the scenes insight into their work. I also love the simple ability to view photos geographically. I look at my hometown Lewiston and nearby Buffalo, New York all the time for different photos and possible local photographer accounts to follow.

Instagram has a number of user run photo groups that plan meetups and hold photo walks. This is a very strong reason why it may be the best network for any photographer even if from a sheer enjoyment factor. I've unfortunately not gotten out with the local Instagram group but hope to someday.

Hashtags for the Win

The best feature is actually not as much a feature as much as it is just organized search using hashtags. As far as I know, they were invented by the smart and talented Chris Messina on Twitter as a way to group conversations together and spread fast. Networks began making them clickable as a shortcut to having to manually search for them. Instagram has done one of the best jobs implementing and promoting the use of hashtags. Their unfiltered search results are the golden standard of hashtag search results in my opinion. I've been lucky enough to curate the WeeklyFstop photo theme very successfully using them.

The recent addition of being able to actually follow hashtags and also add them to your bio has only made the experience that much better. I may not be getting anywhere with my Instagram account, but I sure do enjoy it anyway.

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20 Comments

I didn't see anything about audience engagement in your article, maybe I missed it. If you don't engage with your audience then you'll receive fewer likes and comments. 1800 followers and 100 likes per post is pretty bad, not trying to hate on you, there'a nothing wrong with your pics but that engagement ratio is low and to increase it you need to spend time liking and commenting on your followers posts and they will start to notice you and reciprocate.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

That's a good point and helpful tip!

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well. Increasing your interactions by being interactive and caring is simple, but is this what IG is for? If you answer yes, well, then go for it. So numbers will increase, but what for? More interaction means more time on social media and less time for photography. In case you want to be part of an active photographic digital community it's fine, to go fishing for compliments by being social and interactive will only give you that kind of followers you can get: Reciprocal shoulder clappers, that's all. I'm not sure if that kind of numbers will make you happy.

Better interact with people whose work you love and those who love your work, and don't give a damn about numbers.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Richard Kralicek my old friend! Great to see you here. I agree that spending too much time on social is a lost cause. I certainly have lost the desire to reply to each and every comment. Especially when they may just be looking for a pat back as you say.

Richard Kralicek's picture

:D The pleasure is all mine. I wouldn't say a lost cause, it depends on what you want, and, of course, on the quality of interaction. You probably know those guys who just attend photo walks for the social side of those walks, and you know others who avoid fellow photographers to stay true to their own pursuit. Both are extreme, and we're mostly in between, and there's no general good or wrong in all this. I had millions of views on G+ before I restarted new and small, but that didn't give me better quality interaction, didn't push me to take better images and didn't increase my sells before I stopped that too. If that sounds bitter, it isn't. I just got rid of numbers, and whenever I'm looking at them again I remember that photography is just one part of my life, and fortunately not the one that pays my bills. I guess for pro photographers there's only one thing that pays the bills: Happy clients and their spreading the word.

you can buy likes and views for free, its the comments you want.

My main problem is that Instagram is Facebook and this makes me want to limit my engagement with this shady company. I have an Instagram account, but I don't get excited about it. I don't have a Facebook account.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I understand where you are coming from. Is there anywhere you are posting photos instead?

I have been trying to be active on Vero.

olivier borgognon's picture

nice article, and agree on a few of your points. Agree with what D.R. says about engagement and interactions too, it takes giving to receive out there.

On my side, out of my last 10 posts, 6 were shadowbanned... I was more about posting on IG than going over FB now with the visibility of pages and profiles. Now i'm seriously interested in doing a virtual Blackout test, and working on different elements, engaging in another way and grinding offline to get more done with less dopamine shots that likes, comments and shares bring.

It's really interesting to see the views and the outcomes of social media for many of our businesses and sharing it with others brings some additional input.

Thanks for the hard work gone into your test, analysis and writing your article, nice work.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I don't think you can go wrong with more offline hustle! Thanks for the comment olivier borgognon

Anonymous's picture

Get more followers...get more followers...get more followers...please like me...

Michael B. Stuart's picture

That's one angle to try! ;)

Anonymous's picture

This whole social media thing is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.

michael buehrle's picture

i seen to get as many fake followers that IG adds to my acct as i do real ones. everyday i am deleting people that i know i did not follow and never would. how does a guy have 1 post and 1500 followers ?

Steven Magner's picture

I’m neither a large or small account but I will say that having good photos is half the battle. I used to think that having a ton of followers was a good thing, and maybe it is for some. But for the average Joe, a follower does not = $$$, rather just an ego stroke.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Agreed, a very temporary and almost empty ego stroke at that.

John Skinner's picture

Instagram: But to what end?

What's the point of the exercise? If I'm in my 20-30's and 'think' I'm being some sort of 'influencer' on a social media platform, yea sure, why not.

But for the average Joe, this platform is shite. I've never seen an image on Instagram that has meant anything to me as an image maker. It's millennials snapping pictures of 99.9% junk. Yea, maybe it's my age.. but like Tom Hanks said in BIG.... "I don't get it"